sullivan and the essay


At present, the American magazine essay, both the long feature piece and the critical essay, is flourishing, in unlikely circumstances. Despite the slightly tedious nostalgia for the world of the New York intellectuals and the patient outlets of nineteen-fifties high journalism, I doubt that Edmund Wilson or Alfred Kazin would rightfully find much to complain about. New and new-ish journals such as McSweeney’s, n+1, The Point, and The Common have found their way; older magazines have been optimistically refurbished, or just optimistically survive anyway. There are plenty of reasons for this. One is that magazines, big and small, are taking over some of the cultural and literary ground vacated by newspapers in their seemingly unstoppable evaporation. Another is that the contemporary essay has for some time now been gaining energy as an escape from, or rival to, the perceived conservatism of much mainstream fiction.

more from James Wood at The New Yorker here.